Director: Charlie McDowell
Cast: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss
Watch The One I Love online in the UK: N/A
“He betrayed you by sleeping with someone else. Then, he kind of betrayed you again by sleeping with you.” That’s what Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) is told about her husband, Ethan (Mark Duplass), in The One I Love, a witty, layered romantic drama – and one of the best Sundance films you’ve never heard of.
Sophie and Ethan are a couple on the edge of break-up. Sparks have dimmed. Novelty has faded. Excitement has given way to routine and tedium. And so their therapist recommends that they go away for a weekend retreat in a remote spa – a place where couples have gone in the past and had their mojo magically renewed.
What follows is a razor-sharp dissection of romance both old and new. Justin Lader’s impeccable script is written with the kind of insight that can only be formed through relationships gone wrong, knowing all too well the habits of a partner that can become annoying and overly-familiar. But it’s also infused with the enthusiasm of first love, of surprising discoveries and the allure of someone new and unknown. Somewhere between the two lies the messy reality of human relationships that has made films such as Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy and Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said stand out from the rom-com crowd. The One I Love treads similar territory, but makes it fresh again, by presenting it through a uniquely subtly lens – one that manages to capture the best version of Ethan and Sophie and then the worst, often at the same time.
The cast are central to making such nuanced distinctions possible. Moss, who is currently wowing audiences once again with her work in The Handmaid’s Tale, is perfectly cast as Sophie, able to switch personas from old and weary to young and perky with the slightest glance or smile. She’s matched by Mark Duplass, whose mumblecore past has made him an effortless master of the tiny tics that make a person more recognisable than their glasses or clothes. Both are on fine form together and apart, to the point where several scenes really are like walking out of a room and back into it and seeing an almost completely different couple.
Over the course of 90 unnervingly accurate minutes, their loyalty towards. and understanding of, each other twist and turn in quietly surprising ways, as director Charlie McDowell keeps us trapped in the eerily pristine home with the pair. By the time the outside world is glimpsed again, a surreally claustrophobic atmosphere has built up, one that makes the thought of this couple’s potential future as delightful as it is disturbing. An understated, smart, astonishing bit of cinema.
The One I Love is not currently available on VOD platforms in the UK.